The director of the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival (NJJFF) said enthusiasm and ticket sales were high when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 20th annual event, which was to have taken place March 19-29 at JCC MetroWest in West Orange.
Now, Sarah Diamond said, there is renewed excitement as the landmark festival, sponsored by JCC MetroWest, goes virtual. Throughout the summer, through Aug. 9, 17 festival movies — many award-winning — will be available for home viewing.
Each film will have a time-limited (two-three days) link, and several filmmakers and experts will lead scheduled discussions live on Zoom (most will be recorded for later viewing).
The works include features and documentaries, dramas and comedies, from Israel, America, France, Hungary, and other countries. The Centerpiece Film is “The Spy Behind Home Plate” (July 10-12), a documentary on Morris “Moe” Berg, who started out in Newark, played in the Major Leagues, and led a secret life as a spy during World War II. Award-winning director Aviva Kempner will take part in a discussion.
Other films will open a lens on: “Fiddler on the Roof” and its universal appeal, an Arab couple in Jaffa who shield three orphans from the West Bank, the unlikely friendship between a struggling young comedian and an eccentric alcoholic (played by Billy Crystal), and a fact-based feature on a Latvian worker who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
In the final film, “Crescendo” (Aug. 7-9), a renowned conductor strives to bring harmony to the discordant members of the Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra he is forming.
Among the speakers will be Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Rothfeld, coauthor of “The Fixers,” and Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of The New York Jewish Week.
Diamond said she and the festival committee “are gratified that technology has allowed us to ‘save’ the 20th annual festival. We are already looking forward to embarking on the third decade of this outstanding community cultural touchstone.”
Instructions for viewing each film will be sent to sponsors and ticket holders. Those holding tickets to the few films that could not be converted to an on-line version may choose to see other films. Community members may still become sponsors, and a limited number of individual tickets are available.